What it does: Software design, creation and delivery
Staff stats: 4000 employees
The good bits: Travel, progressive culture
The not so good bits: Conflict between opinionated staff in an egalitarian workplace
The ThoughtWorks story
In the late 1980s, Roy Singham launched a management consultancy called Singham Business Services. Subsequently, his Chicago-based enterprise pivoted to building software applications and was rebranded ThoughtWorks in 1993. Singham then became an influential business thinker. He has championed agile software development and the open source software movement, the lean manufacturing philosophy and a turbo-charged commitment corporate social responsibility.
Part of Singham’s dream was to build a business that employed “the best knowledge workers in the world”. Judging by the still privately owned company’s world-conquering success he has managed to do that. As Singham points out, ThoughtWorks has expanded from a “small group in Chicago to a company of over 4000 passionate people spread across 42 offices in 15 countries.”
While lots of businesses trumpet diversity, ThoughtWorks is evangelical about it. Part of its corporate manifesto is: “Appearances and backgrounds aren’t important to us... We abhor and reject discrimination and inequality and promote diversity in all its forms. We proudly, passionately and actively strive to make both ThoughtWorks and our industry more reflective and inclusive of the society that we serve.”
In the five years to 2015 ThoughtWorks almost doubled the number of its female employees in tech roles from 17 to 32 per cent. In Australia, the company has a policy requiring half of all hires to be women. It also conducts regular reviews to ensure those women are receiving the same pay and career opportunities as their male counterparts. The company has won awards for being a great place to work for women and minorities, as well as individuals from any background.
Corporate social responsibility is something most businesses embrace once they are in a comfortable enough position to worry about more than survival. At ThoughtWorks it’s been baked into the business from the beginning. Singham built his company on three pillars: sustainable business, software excellence and social justice. The company’s staff have developed innovative software that has been open sourced. Since 2009, ThoughtWorks has devoted significant resources to its ‘Social Impact Program’. This has seen it provide tech solutions including mobile content delivery sites, mobile data collection, software engineering services and even an SMS-based fertility planner for organisations such as Democracy Now, Human Network International, Grameen Foundation and the Institute for Reproductive Health.
The recruitment process
ThoughtWorks is not a typical company, or even a typical funky and progressive tech company. Before applying for a position, consider whether you’ll be happy in a workplace that revolves around the following “cultural characteristics”:
- Do the right thing
- Attitude, aptitude and integrity
- Service to others and society over self
- Solidarity over charity
- Serve holistic goals over achieving targets
- Personal and organisational transparency
- Curiosity, creativity and passion
- Fail fast and publish our mistakes
- Intolerant of intolerance
- No jerks
- High values alignment, loosely coupled
Characteristically, ThoughtWorks has a unique recruitment and induction process. It welcomes applications from graduates from all disciplines, as well people looking to switch careers, as long as they love both technology and learning. The process starts by checking out the company’s job site and applying for any relevant grad positions advertised. You’ll then have a chat with a company recruiter who will grill you about “your background, interests, passions, fears and everything else”. If that goes well and you’re applying for a technical role, you’ll be asked to complete a technical assignment. The final stage is face-to-face interviews “with a broad group of people” and some assessments at the closest ThoughtWork’s office.
Much of ThoughtWorks’ work gets done in India and new hires are sent to ThoughtWorks University in Pune. There they “spend five weeks with ThoughtWorkers from around the world, discovering our values, practices and principles, and hearing all the best stories”. They also “learn how to build working software from week one” and are set up with “a readymade global network of friends and mentors”.
Grad salaries are around the average but there are some noteworthy benefits. On top of their initial five weeks of paid training in India, staff receive $2000 and two days off each year to improve their skill set. There are book, phone and internet allowances that add up to hundreds of dollars each year.
Offices have plenty of snacks and drinks and you should be shouted lunch on Fridays. Plus, there are plentiful opportunities for interstate and international postings.
ThoughtWorks has a flat structure and it’s not a place where ruthless personal ambition is rewarded. It’s easy to move sideways into different roles and expand your skill set. However, working out how to move upwards is more complicated. You’ll need to balance being driven with not being a jerk if you wish to advance.
The vibe of the place
If you're after a conventional employer, ThoughtWorks is definitely not for you. If you want to work in an egalitarian, diverse and sociable workplace crammed full of techno-utopians, you’ll be in heaven.
Star Rating: 4.4 stars
From the Employer:
"If you have stumbled across us and have no idea who we are, ThoughtWorks is a software company with over 3000 employees spread across 30 offices in 12 countries.
We’re also an amazing collection of humans, hired for our passion, integrity and special powers. The company was founded as a social experiment – what happens when you hire really smart, passionate people and set them loose on really tough problems? 20 years on, this collection of people has helped shape the IT industry.
It’s not that straightforward though. If you ask anyone who works here what we do, they’ll give you a different answer. ThoughtWorks is very much what you make of it, and your experience will be shaped by the projects you’re on and the people you work with.
Since we started, in a basement in Chicago over 20 years ago, we have made many mistakes, and have learnt a lot about how to build software, but more importantly, how to work effectively. We’re fanatical about helping our industry to get better and we do this by writing books, blogging, and talking at conferences. But the biggest way that we help is the work that we do with our clients.
We called it ‘Revolutionising IT’, but today we have extended our focus to an even bigger, and much more important goal; social justice. Our three pillars are the building blocks of ThoughtWorks, created to help us be the business we want to be. They are:
- Run a sustainable business
- Champion software excellence
- Advocate for social justice
ThoughtWorks offices all over the world hire and support passionate graduate consultants. Graduates can take training courses, or develop their skills as a consultant in guided programs that aim for continuous learning and support in a safe-to-fail environment."